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Tips for storing fresh fruits and vegetables

Two is better than one when it comes to the humble crisper.

person taking green vegetables out of a fridge crisper
Last updated: 29 February 2024

Need to know

  • Crispers provide a more humid environment in your fridge which helps keep some fruits and vegetables fresh for longer
  • Fruits and vegies release the natural gas ethylene at different volumes and rates as they ripen, and they react differently to the gas as well
  • Keeping ethylene-sensitive produce like broccoli and cucumber separate from major ethylene producers like pears and avocados will help them last longer

The crisper in your fridge is designed to store fruits and vegetables at their best – the closed drawer keeps in some humidity, which helps keep some items fresh for longer.

But fruits and vegies don't all ripen at the same rate. Some require more humidity than others, and some are more sensitive to the cold; some don't require refrigeration at all, and some only in the later stages of ripening. It's no wonder there's confusion about how to best store fresh produce in the crisper!

What is a crisper drawer and how does it work?

A crisper, sometimes called a crisper drawer or humidity drawer, is a plastic bin in your fridge designed to provide the best possible conditions for storing fresh fruits and veg. It's almost always located at the bottom of a fridge, and tends to be a little warmer than the main part of the fridge, as well as being much more humid.

Ideally your crisper will be able to regulate humidity, as many fruits and vegetables will dry out and deteriorate rapidly in the dry air of your fridge.

Zucchini and green beans like a warmer environment with higher humidity, while peaches and pears prefer a colder one with lower humidity

But different fruits and vegetables have different needs – zucchini and green beans like a warmer environment with higher humidity, while peaches and pears prefer a colder one with lower humidity.

Ultimately it can be a delicate balance to get right and will likely involve some compromising, but learning how certain foods behave and how to store them properly in your crisper can help you save money on groceries and reduce your food waste.

Crispers vs chillers

Although these two sections of your fridge may sound and look similar, a chiller will be much colder than a crisper – ideally around -1°C – so they're not interchangeable and you definitely shouldn't store meat in a crisper (it just won't keep very well).

How ethylene gas affects the life of your produce

Fruits and vegetables release the natural ripening gas ethylene at different volumes and rates in their ripening stages, and they react differently to the gas as well, ripening slower or faster depending on how much ethylene is around them.

Cherries and blueberries don't release much ethylene and don't react to it much, whereas apples and pears release greater volumes of ethylene at later stages of ripening.

person reaching into a fridge to grab fruit and vegetables

Capsicum, carrots and corn all prefer a more humid environment in your fridge.

Lettuce is quite sensitive to ethylene, so you wouldn't want to store lettuce (or other leafy greens) with pears and apples in the fridge.

If you have well-ripened or close-to-spoiling produce, don't store it with your other fruits and veg – it can trigger rapid ripening or spoilage.

That's why having dual crispers in your fridge can be an advantage, as you can store certain fruits and vegetables separately. Some crispers also have humidity controls which claim to control the amount of moisture in the crisper.

Through decades of testing fridges in the CHOICE labs we've found that many crispers (or at least those without humidity control) have about the same humidity levels as the main part of the fridge, which is usually quite low.

CHOICE tip: If you don't have humidity control in your crisper, you can put fruits and vegetables that prefer more humid conditions in a loose plastic bag.

The tables below look at the different behaviours of common fruits and vegetables, including how much ethylene they produce, how much they're affected by ethylene, and what kind of climate they prefer.

How ethylene affects common fruits and vegies
Fruits and vegetables
Ethylene produced
Ethylene sensitivity
Apricots High High
Asparagus Very low Medium
Avocados High High
Blueberries Low Low
Broccoli Very low High
Cabbage Very low High
Capsicum Low Low
Carrots Very low Low
Cauliflower Very low High
Celery Very low Medium
Cherries Very low Low
Corn Very low Low
Cucumbers Low High
Eggplant Low Low
Green beans Low Medium
Kale Very low Medium
Leeks Very low Medium
Lettuce (iceberg) Very low High
Nectarines High High
Peaches High High
Pears High High
Peas Very low Medium
Plums Medium High
Spinach Very low High
Strawberries Low Low
Zucchini High High
Ideal humidity for fruits and vegies
Low humidity
High humidity
Apricots, avocados, nectarines, peaches, pears and plums. Asparagus, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, capsicum, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cherries, corn, cucumber, eggplant, green beans, kale, leeks, iceberg lettuce, peas, spinach, strawberries and zucchini.
Ideal temperatures for fruits and vegies
Colder environment (0-2°C)
Warmer environment (5-10°C)
Apricots, asparagus, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cherries, corn, iceberg lettuce, kale, leeks, nectarines, peaches, pears, peas, plums, spinach and strawberries. Avocados, capsicum, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans and zucchini.

Using ethylene gas to your advantage

While an abundance of ethylene gas can cause your fresh produce to spoil before you're ready to eat it, you can also make that gas work for you by speeding up the ripening process of some fruits and veg. 

If you've got rock-solid avocados that you plan to eat in a couple of days, pop them in a paper bag with some bananas and leave them on your kitchen counter for a day or two. The warmer environment teamed with the fact that bananas produce a lot of ethylene gas means you'll be smashing that avo on toast sooner than you think.

CHOICE tip: Bananas release ethylene gas from their stems, so if you want them to last longer, separate the bunch and wrap each stem in plastic.

Fruits and vegetables you don't need to refrigerate

Some fruits and vegetables have no business being kept in the fridge – they'll rot faster, and sometimes lose their flavour. These include:

  • potatoes
  • sweet potatoes
  • whole pumpkins
  • onions
  • garlic.

Instead, leave them in a cool, dark space (like in a paper bag or cardboard box in your pantry or under the sink), preferably stored separately, as keeping your root vegies together can affect their flavour. Once these vegies have been cut, however, they should be stored in the fridge to maximise their shelf life.

Tropical fruits, like bananas, mangoes and pineapples, fare best at room temperature, but once ripe can be stored in the crisper. Tomatoes love a sunny position on your bench or kitchen window sill and can end up tasting a bit bland if you keep them in the fridge. 

Learn more about the foods you do (and don't) need to refrigerate.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.